By Barbara Kessler, TJJD Communications

Rocking Horse Delivery

This past week, TJJD Executive Director Shandra Carter and a group of TJJD leaders toured two youth facilities in Oregon in preparation for the construction of two new facilities in Texas.

The Texas Legislature in 2023 approved $200 million for modernized, special facilities to help TJJD better serve its population of youth.

The new Texas secure facilities would be the first purposely built for youth in more than 50 years and will serve specialized populations, youth needing treatment for highly aggressive behavior and those with mental health needs. The Texas Facilities Commission is scouting for locations and has completed a report on the feasibility of potential sites. You can find that report here:

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The TJJD group toured the Rogue Valley and MacLaren youth correctional facilities operated by the Oregon Youth Authority.

Carter said the Texas group found these facilities were architecturally appealing with features that accommodate learning and rehabilitation, such as ample natural light and open rooms with good sightlines for supervision. The buildings featured secure outdoor recreation areas that allowed for activities and also separation of youth. Dorms had kitchens so youth could have family-style meals.

The recently built or renovated Oregon facilities also had sound baffling that can help create a calmer environment, especially helpful for youth struggling with mental health or other issues. (Excessive sound is a known problem in traditional incarceration settings with their concrete floors, metal furniture and crowded dayrooms.)

A unique feature, helpful for group living, were windows that could be fogged, or made opaque, with a switch, allowing for an appropriate balance of privacy and supervision, Carter said.

Rocking Horse Delivery

Staff areas were more accommodating, as well, with lockers, bathrooms, and refrigerators.

Although the Oregon system has some differences, compared to Texas, such as housing youth up to age 25, the tour was informative and helpful, Carter said. 

“We were able to get some great ideas for our new builds. OYA had some beautiful and innovative designs that still prioritized safety and security,” she said.

The Rogue Valley facility also had “amazing views of the mountains,” which Carter joked she’d like to have for the Texas facilities.

Carter was joined on the tour by Deputy Executive Director Sean Grove, Sr. Director of Secure Facilities Alan Michel, Director of Programming Development and Training Chris Ellison, Sr. Director of Integrated and Specialized Treatment Evan Norton and Director of Construction and Engineering Zachary Valdez.